There are jokes that can be made about emotional outbursts, depression, thoughts of suicide, dementia and loss of short term memory. Even more when they are tied to Pitt football.
But not when they are related to Tony Dorsett and his recent diagnosis of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
The three former stars underwent brain scans and clinical evaluations during the past three months at UCLA, as did an unidentified ex-player whose test results are not yet available. Last year, UCLA tested five other former players and diagnosed all five as having signs of CTE, marking the first time doctors found signs of the crippling disease in living former players.
CTE is indicated by a buildup of tau, an abnormal protein that strangles brain cells in areas that control memory, emotions and other functions. Autopsies of more than 50 ex-NFL players, including Hall of Famer Mike Webster and perennial All-Pro Junior Seau, who committed suicide last year, found such tau concentrations.
Dorsett went for the tests because he knew there were some major problems.
The former Cowboys running back, now 59, said that when he took his Oct. 21 flight from Dallas to Los Angeles for testing, he repeatedly struggled to remember why he was aboard the plane and where he was going. Such episodes, he said, are commonplace when he travels.
Dorsett said he also gets lost when he drives his two youngest daughters, ages 15 and 10, to their soccer and volleyball games.
“I’ve got to take them to places that I’ve been going to for many, many, many years, and then I don’t know how to get there,” he said.
The 1976 Heisman Trophy winner and eighth all-time leading NFL rusher said he has trouble controlling his emotions and is prone to outbursts at his wife and daughters.
“It’s painful, man, for my daughters to say they’re scared of me.” After a long pause, he tearfully reiterated, “It’s painful.”
Dorsett said doctors have told him he is clinically depressed.
“I’ve thought about crazy stuff, sort of like, ‘Why do I need to continue going through this?’” he said. “I’m too smart of a person, I like to think, to take my life, but it’s crossed my mind.”
Dorsett doesn’t know how many concussions he’s suffered in his career. It’s more than just that, however. It’s the repeated shots that weren’t concussions as well. All those hits. The cumulative effect.
The hope is that there is some sort of treatment that can be developed now that they can diagnose CTE in living people. But the work is still so new, that it is likely to be years before anything gets beyond the experimental stage. All men like Dorsett can do is have hope.
“I’m trying to slow this down or cut it off,” Dorsett said. “I’m going to be 60 years old here next year, so I’m hoping that I’ve got another good 30 years or so.”
Here’s the video of the segment, if you feel like battling dust.